Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has asked Democrats and Republicans to submit a list of candidates to serve as the eleventh member of the New Jersey Legislative Apportionment Commission by August 10.
That puts the selection process for legislative and congressional tiebreakers in tandem.
“As I did a decade ago, I am inviting both parties to submit proposed names for a tiebreaker,” Rabner said in a letter to Gov. Phil Murphy and legislative leaders from both parties on Thursday. “If there is a match, I would be favorably inclined to appoint the individual.”
He placed no limitations on the number of names a political party may submit but asked that each party consolidate the suggestions of their membership into “one consolidated list.”
Democratic leaders said they will ask Rabner for a one-week extension.
Under the State Constitution, if the two political parties can’t agree on a map redrawing New Jersey’s 40 legislative districts following the decennial census, the chief justice alone picks an eleventh member to break a tie.
Rabner has designated Stewart Pollock, a retired Supreme Court Justice, to review the names on both lists and advise him if there are matches.
“I will not review the lists,” the chief justice said in his letter, obtained by the New Jersey Globe.
Pollack, 88, served as Gov. Brendan Byrne’s chief counsel prior to his nomination the court in 1979 and served on the bench for 20 years.
Rabner appears to be getting a jump start on the process rather than waiting for the commission to deadlock.
Ten years ago, both parties agreed on Alan Rosenthal, who had spent 20 years as director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers, as their tiebreaker. That obviated the need for Rabner to pick an eleventh member.
As chief justice, Rabner makes the selection alone and with no parameters.
The process for picking a tiebreaker for congressional redistricting is different.
The twelve-member panel – six Democrats and six Republicans – must meet by July 15 to vote on a thirteenth member.
If they can’t agree on a tiebreaker, the top two candidates will go to the full seven-member New Jersey Supreme Court who will pick one of the two names.
That puts the Rabner Court in the uncomfortable position of taking sides in an overtly political appointment that has national implications.
The Supreme Court must make that pick by August 10.
Rabner’s letter went to Murphy and the legislative leadership and not to the co-chairs of the Legislative Apportionment Commission, Democratic State Chairman LeRoy Jones, Jr. and Essex County GOP Chairman Al Barlas.
Three other the legislative leaders – Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Kean, Jr., and Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick – serve on the legislative panel selected last year by the two state party chairmen.
As part of a deal over the Democratic state party chairmanship, John Currie named Sweeney, Middlesex County Democratic insider Gary Taffet, West New Yok Commissioner Cosmo Cirillo and Fairview Borough Administrator Diane Testa to the legislative commission.
Then-Republican State Chairman Doug Steinhardt named former GOP State Chairman Michael Lavery and Salem County Republican Chair Linda DuBois, along with Barlas, Kean and Bramnick.
Click HERE to read a primer on the selection of tiebreakers.